April 2, 2018 Read More →

U.S. Wind-Farm Upgrades Are Attracting More Capital

InsideClimate News:

Old wind farms that have towered over the same fields for more than a decade may be generating more power now than ever before.

As America’s biggest wind farms age, their owners are starting to “repower” them with more efficient turbines, new electronics and longer, lighter blades that can sweep more wind with each rotation. The result is a thriving new industry, new jobs and more renewable energy.

New blades and technology updates have completely “revitalized” two Leeward Energy wind farms near Sweetwater, Texas, saving the company money and allowing the farm to generate more energy, said Leeward CEO Greg Wolf.

“In a sense, we have a whole new wind farm,” he said.

Last year, the U.S. wind industry completed 15 partial repowering projects totaling 2,136 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association. (To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. wind industry added about 7,000 megawatts of wind power capacity in 2017.) As the market for wind continues to expand and technology keeps dropping in cost and becoming more efficient, renewable energy companies around the world are starting to update their fleets.

“It’s extending the life of these projects without having to build a new wind farm, by taking advantage of existing infrastructure, project locations and power purchase agreements to help save costs,” said Celeste Wanner, research analyst for AWEA. “Repowering benefits everyone with lower cost to consumers and higher performance of the turbines.”

When wind development started to take off a few decades ago, major companies gobbled up some of the best sites for wind production. But turbine efficiency continues to improve, and costs have dropped by two-thirds since 2009.

“The energy capacity factor of the average turbine has jumped from 30 percent in the early 2000s to anywhere from 40 to 50 percent now,” Wanner said. “Compare that to a typical coal plant, which has about 54 percent.”

With the advancement of technology—and incentives in the form of federal tax credits—more wind farms are now choosing to replace blades and turbine parts, rather than the entire 300-foot structures.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that U.S. wind repowering investments like these could reach $25 billion a year by 2030.

More: Aging Wind Farms Are Repowering with Longer Blades, More Efficient Turbines

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